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Multi-site sampling and risk prioritization reveals the public health relevance of antibiotic resistance genes found in wastewater environments

By Chengzhen Dai, Claire Duvallet, An Ni Zhang, Mariana G. Matus, Newsha Ghaeli, Shinkyu Park, Noriko Endo, Siavash Isazadeh, Kazi Jamil, Carlo Ratti, Eric J. Alm

Posted 28 Feb 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/562496

The spread of bacterial antibiotic resistance across human and environmental habitats is a global public health challenge. Wastewater has been implicated as a major source of antibiotic resistance in the environment, as it carries resistant bacteria and resistance genes from humans into natural ecosystems. However, different wastewater environments and antibiotic resistance genes in wastewater do not all present the same level of risk to human health. In this study, we investigate the public health relevance of antibiotic resistance found in wastewater by combining metagenomic sequencing with risk prioritization of resistance genes, analyzing samples across urban sewage system environments in multiple countries. We find that many of the resistance genes commonly found in wastewater are not readily present in humans. Ranking antibiotic resistance genes based on their potential pathogenicity and mobility reveals that most of the resistance genes in wastewater are not clinically relevant. Additionally, we show that residential wastewater resistomes pose greater risk to human health than those in wastewater treatment plant samples, and that residential wastewater can be as risky as hospital effluent. Across countries, differences in antibiotic resistance in residential wastewater can, in some cases, reflect differences in antibiotic drug consumption. Finally, we find that the flow of antibiotic resistance genes is influenced by geographical distance and environmental selection. Taken together, we demonstrate how different analytical approaches can provide greater insights into the public health relevance of antibiotic resistance in wastewater.

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